I have a lot of devices with Airplay features, so I am still hoping some of the newer devices get updates, but at this point, I wouldn't buy a device for Airplay features unless the company has already announced that it will get automatically updated for Airplay 2 when it becomes available.
I just wanted to make a "Public Service Announcement" for the Airport Express since I have recommended it, compared it to other similar devices by other companies, and because it is used with Airplay, which I have discussed numerous times.
At this point in time, I would not recommend buying an Airport Express. Apple has already mentioned that they will be bringing out Airplay 2 alongside the HomePod. Airplay 2 will give you the ability to play to multiple devices at the same time from iOS. Apple has announced that the AppleTV 4 will work with Airplay 2, but they have made no such announcement about the Airport Express.
Also, while iOS should still be compatible with older Airplay products, they could discontinue making updates to the Airport Express that could leave your network vulnerable to viruses or hackers. The Airport Express isn't just a music playback device, it can also be used as a wifi base station, which means its could be more vulnerable without updates down the road.
I would love for the Airport Express to get the Airplay 2 update and security updates in the future, I am just concerned about Apple's long term plans for this device with Airplay 2 eventually being available. As a result, I would not recommend buying this device until Apple is more clear about its future, unless you have weighed those pros and cons and decided it was still worth it.
I have a lot of devices with Airplay features, so I am still hoping some of the newer devices get updates, but at this point, I wouldn't buy a device for Airplay features unless the company has already announced that it will get automatically updated for Airplay 2 when it becomes available.
When I first unboxed the Yamaha WXC-50 (~$350), I was impressed by the looks of the device right out of the box. It is compact so it can fit in tight spaces, but the solid metal body with aluminum cover looks first class. However, I wasn't impressed that Yamaha chose not to include any audio cables with the setup. I realize that there are tons of ways you can use this device, but at minimum, they could have included analog RCA cables. Instead of being able to use this out of the box, I was digging through drawers searching for cables.
Despite the small size, which can be placed horizontally or vertically, theWXC-50 packs in a lot of features. It works with DLNA, Airplay, Bluetooth, has an optical input, and a standard aux input. It has digital outputs, a trigger in/out, and a subwoofer out if you want to use it with powered speakers., Its uses capable ESS DACs and the WXC-50 can handle hi resolution files, including DSD (up to 5.6 Mhz) and FLAC files up to 24/192.
The Yamaha MusicCast app give you complete control over the extensive features. You can also tweak sound quality, access your server, access internet radio, access Pandora, etc., with the app.
The device also comes with its own small remote. It can select the different inputs, access favorited internet stations with 6 presets, and pause, play, skip and go back to prior songs. The remote will even allow you to pause an Airplay signal or skip the song even though it is being served music from the iPhone.
All the Wonderful Things
I have tested Pandora, playing DSD files, playing 24/96 and 24/192 files, Airplay features, Bluetooth (both as a receiver and a transmitter) the optical input, the USB input, sent it an analog signal, and used the internet radio features. If you are using the pre-amp outputs everything works great with any signal. However, I should mention that that I was unable to get DSD audio from the Aux outputs (separate section from the pre-amp outs). Also, the Bluetooth transmitter seems slow to find devices. I was unable to get it to send a Bluetooth audio signal to my Echo Dot. It was able to find my Bluetooth Denon receiver and send audio to it. I also tried it with my Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones and those worked without a problem, as well. The issue with the Dot could be that it does not have the required specs to work with the WCX-50 or the Dot has an issue on its end, so I would not read a whole lot into that issue unless you are buying this specifically to send the Dot a Bluetooth signal.
Speaking of Bluetooth transmitting, it does not work with all audio. I could get it to play music on my Denon receiver when I would send it 24/192 files from my server, but it could not handle DSD. It worked with internet radio, but it would not send out an Airplay signal. It also worked with the optical digital input and the analog input. However, there is a lag between the main speakers and the Bluetooth receiver, so I would not recommend this as a whole home solution. I would pick which device you want to listen to music on and mute the other device. I should mention that Yamaha has many MusicCast devices and speakers and I would guess that they would handle the lag better, but I do not own any other MusicCast devices, so I can't comment on how they would work together.
How I Use It
The way I am using the WCX-50 is to feed a Little Dot MKIII Headphone amp (see above) via the pre-amp outs and I am also using it with a Marantz vintage receiver via the slightly more limited aux output. I have the Marantz hooked up to an iHome plug so that I can turn it on and off by voice using Siri orAlexa/Echo.
One of my favorite ways to use it with the Marantz is to tell the Alexa to send music to the WCX-50 (which pairs fine with the Echo Dot for receiving Bluetooth audio) and then telling it to turn on the Marantz and play music. I can do all of this from the couch via voice. I have my extensive music library on Amazon's servers, so I can listen to most of my favorite music that way.
For more serious listening, I use the Little Dot MKIII with a pair ofHiFiMan headphones and the sound quality from the WXC-50 is outstanding. Even when using Bluetooth as a source, its EQ capabilities, like advanced Bass Extension and Compressed Music Enhancer, make it sound very good.
In the picture above, you will also notice that I also have a Little Dot DAC1. I haven't removed it from the setup because I bought the amp and DAC together, but the Little Dot DAC1 will also take a USB feed from my iPhone via the Camera Connection Kit (USB3.0 to Lightning cable) and send the digital signal out via analog (using the DAC). To get that benefit, I have the Little Dot DAC1 feeding the analog inputs on the WXC-50, so it all works great together. Honestly, I could live with Airplay rather than a direct connection, but this just gives me a bit more flexibility if I am having home network issues.
A Quick Look at My Living Room
The picture above was taken before I put this setup together, but I wanted to show it because it gives you an idea of how it works in my setup. The red chair is where I listen to a lot of music. I have the WXC-50/Little Dot on the shelf next to it, so I can lean back in my "stressless" chair and have music fed right into my soul. The Marantz, which is on the top shelf is hooked up to some vintage Pinnacle speakers and is also getting an audio signal from the WXC-50. Finally, my main setup, with Monitor Audio speakers can be paired via Bluetooth and receive an audio signal from the WXC-50. All in all, it gives me a lot different ways to appreciate all of the WXC-50 features.
The Wrap Up
To wrap up, I was using an Airport Express in this setup in the past and it worked fine, but the WXC-50 looks better, sounds better, has many more audiophile features without shorting you on convenient features for when you just want background music. When you consider that stand-alone DACS can be priced in the same range, the WCX-50 is a bargain. All in all, this is a special audio device that has so many features that it would please almost any music fan. I know that I am very pleased with it!!!
First let me say that I am a fan of Marco Arment and I listen to ATP on his app Overcast nearly every week. However, he has an often referenced post that has lead to panic by many in Apple forums. (Note: I am not just talking about trolls that have nothing better to do than hang out at Apple forums and proclaim Apple is doomed with each rumor or product release)
Sometimes the panic is so high that it reminds me of that guy on the street corner with the sign proclaiming "THE WORLD IS ENDING!!"
The title of the article is: If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple
The premise of his article is that Apple could suffer the same fate as Blackberry because they don't collect people's data and, in turn, can't use that data for artificial intelligence. Here are a couple excerpts from the article:
"But if Google’s right, there’s no quick fix. It won’t be enough to buy Siri’s creators again or partner with Yelp for another few years. If Apple needs strong AI and big-data services in the next decade to remain competitive, they need to have already been developing that talent and those assets, in-house, extensively, for years. They need to be a big-data-services company. Their big-data AI services need to be far better, smarter, and more reliable than they are.And I just don’t see that happening. Becoming a major big-data AI services company doesn’t happen completely in secret and suddenly get released to the world, completed, in a keynote. It’s a massive undertaking, spanning many years, many people, and a lot of noticeable interaction with the world. It’s easier to conceal the development of an entire car than a major presence in AI and services."
There are a lot of disclaimers about "if Google is right or Google is wrong", so he is just pointing out that if gathering tons of your data becomes necessary to keep customers, then Apple is too far behind to catch up. Duh! If people simply decide to stop buying anything iOS, the that would be bad for Apple, too.
If Google is Wrong
Look, it is hard to talk about the ramifications of giving up all of your information to a private company without getting political (which I have avoided like the plague on this site). So I will just say that if the government exploits this kind of data and possible overreach happens to people/institutions, that the media cares about, the concern over personal privacy could turn on a dime. All it takes is one big story that is covered non-stop by the big networks and Google's data collection practices might get a second look by consumers.
Personally, I think this is as probable as people flocking in mass from a service that respects their privacy to a service that wants to put a three thousand pound parrot on their shoulder that watches their every move twenty four hours a day.
Below is a video of the type of thing that many people currently shrug off that could be very damaging to Google's brand in a different political environment:
If Apple is Wrong
Apple is not done with Siri. There are articles about VocalIQ making Siri a lot better. Also, there are rumors that Siri will be opened to third parties soon. I don't know anyone that thinks Apple is finished fine tuning and improving Siri.
However, if people decide that they need features that can only be obtained by giving away all their privacy, then Apple will fall behind, assuming that the rest of the features Apple offers aren't more important than these specific AI features.
No two ways around it,Apple has been harping on the fact that they don't want your personal data and are willing to work around it to accomplish their goals:
"Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple."
One thing that is often discounted by tech bloggers is Apple's ecosystem. When you buy Apple products, you aren't always just buying an iPhone. You are buying an entire ecosystem that works together and Apple has been making huge strides in making things more cohesive. Picking up calls on your Mac, iPad or iPhone, seeing your messages on all their products, using the hand off features that allow you to put down your phone and pick up where you left off on another device using Safari, mail, calendar, etc. The list goes on and on.
I have been using the iPhone since the 3Gs came along. I wanted a phablet phone like Samsung offered for over a year, but I waited it out for one reason...Apple's ecosystem. The ability to use so many apps on the iPad or iPhone and not needing to repurchase all of them (many aren"t even available) on Android was a huge factor. Airplay is another factor because there is nothing similar to it on Android (I havecompared Casting to Airplay in an older post, but Airplay is simply more versatile on iOS than Casting is on any platform).
In other words, I, like many others, would need a very compelling reason to leave Apple at this point. I am not saying that Google won't come up with that very compelling reason, but nothing I have seen so far makes that move worth it. Trust me, I am quite aware that there are useful features on Android phones that we are missing on iOS (some are waterproof, widgets, customization, etc). However, it just isn't compelling enough to leave the at this point.
The question is how much giving up privacy in exchange for AI would change current lifestyles? Personally, I just don't think it can provide a drastic change. Let's say I searched for Phillips Hue lights on Google this morning. They now have that information. What can they do to make my life easier? Maybe suggest a cheap place to buy it? Can't they do that from the search engine?
Let's say that I was texting with my girlfriend about eating streak for dinner, do I really need them to butt into our conversation (which I believe could get really annoying) and ask if we want to make reservations at a restaurant between where I am and where she is? I don't think it would help because both of us are heading home after work and we are more likely to eat at a place near home. Maybe it knows that and suggests a place near our home? Guess what, I already know the places around the house and most of them don't take reservations. Then what? In other words, what are they learning about me that helps make my life so much easier that I am willing to throw away the Apple Ecosystem and my privacy?
It is an interesting subject for sure. At the end of the day, I am simply more comfortable with the way Apple does things right now. I am not saying Google is bad, but it just makes me feel slightly less comfortable, so I will stick with iOS until a huge change takes place ( something of the magnitude that had me switch to the iPhone from the Palm Treo). I am betting that it won't happen, but you never know...Google could be right! Of course, monkees could fly...
Well, it has been a long time since Apple released its 3rd Gen Apple TV (announced back in March 2012), so there has been a lot of pent up demand from a lot of us Apple TV fans. This box is better than the 3rd Gen in many ways, but there are still some issues that I hope Apple resolves in the coming months.
The new Apple TV is a bit thicker than the last two Apple TVs. It also dropped the digital optical output that a lot of people still need. Of course, that issue can be remedied with a device like this one, but that will add to the overall cost of using the device.
List of the ports and interfaces:
802.11ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO
Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
USB‑C for service and support
Built‑in power supply
Below are a couple pics comparing the front and back to an Apple TV2 (the fat one is the Apple TV4)
If you have a subscription to Apple Music, it may be enough to get you to shell out the $150-199. Its implementation is fantastic. If you have used the app on another platform, you should be very comfortable with the way it is setup on the AppleTV. It uses “For You”, “New”, Radio”, "My Music”, ”Playlists”, “Search” (Siri search in Apple Music is rumored to be coming in 2016) and “Now Playing” in a very similar way to the iOS app. I do not see a “Connect” tab, but there are some “Connect” video and audio choices on the “New” page. The “New” page also has a link to different genres, so I was happy to see that they were able to adopt that feature.
It appears that Apple has decided to keep the resampling to 48khz feature from the older Apple TVs. For audiophiles, this is a major problem since it won’t allow you to put out a standard 44.1kHz (Redbok CD) signal. That being said, I have listen to it for a few hours and it sounds great in my setup.
I also want to mention that I felt the desire to use the music video features a lot more on this platform. The iPad’s implementation of Apple Music videos is awful. There is no full screen mode, instead, it is presented in a small box in the middle of the screen. You can’t even Airplay it to a TV. However, having the feature built into the Apple TV means you get full screen videos right on your TV with great sound quality. In the past, the videos were a worthless feature, but now, I will be using them a whole lot more.
(click on the pics below for larger images)
While you can access your own cloud music library (in 256k AAC) through Apple Music, if you have an account. The new Apple TV has also included Home Sharing through its “Computers” icon. I was very happy to see this because I have all of my music in Apple Lossless format and I would typically rather just stream from a Mac Mini to Apple TV rather than using my internet data when I want to listen to my own music.
Home Sharing has podcasts, home videos, and movies included, as well.
There are two ways to interact with the AppleTV. You can do that through Siri or through a remote. For movies, Siri is pretty darn awesome. You can say something like “Jason Statham on Netflix" and it will pull up his movies and you can click on any of them. It will give you a quick description of the movie, who it stars, the director, a preview, and the ability to play or open it in Netflix. It also includes a bunch of “related” movies below. I also tested it by saying “Michael Keaton on HBO" and it works as well, using the HBO GO app. Notice how quick the feature is in the short clip below:
Siri can also launch apps, give you sports info, and tell you the weather. See the short clip below for a couple of examples:
The downside to the AppleTV right now is that Siri doesn’t work with all apps. Your own video collection, for example, isn’t included in the search. This is where the real pain of using the remote comes into play. Apple, for some reason has decided to make the onscreen keyboard one row of letters. This is a real issue if you want to manually search in an app like HBO Go because the letters are so large that they trail completely off the screen. While I could live with this if the AppleTV worked with the Remote app (which has a keyboard for typing on the older AppleTVs), but it doesn’t.
This really becomes a headache when you have 16 character passwords that you have to type in when you install an app that requires a password…which is most of them. The Apple TV has Bluetooth which comes in handy for the initial setup, however, from my understanding, you still can’t pair a keyboard with it.
NOTE: I tried to pair a Targus Bluetooth Keyboard with it and it never showed up in the settings.
One of my favorite apps on my old Apple TV was the Podcast app. It was unique because you could go through many different categories and save specific shows as your favorites and they would automatically update. I have always preferred this approach over having tons of different apps that have one individual show you want to watch. Not to mention that you could start a program and then exit it and resume it on any iOS device or AppleTV.
On the other hand, the new Apple TV does not currently have the Apple Podcast app. I was very surprised and disappointed by that fact, to be honest. Instead of pulling up “MacBreak Weekly” in the Podcast app, the way to get it now would be to get the TWIT app. There are three different TWIT apps on the AppleTV (one of them is currently free). However, I don’t want to install another app on all my devices to get the resume play features.
In short, the lack of the Apple Podcast app is the biggest shortfall of this new Apple TV, in my opinion. I am going to try to get my iTunes library Podcasts up to date (I still have 2011 Hypercritical programs in it) and use Home Sharing for Podcasts instead.
Note: The TWIT app looks great, but I still prefer just having all apps I like show up in one place on all my devices.
The Apple TV 4th generation App store already has a lot of apps. It will even find your “Purchased” iOS compatible apps and make them available for download to the Apple TV. Many apps require a cable or satellite account to set them up, but I really like the ability to have NBC and ABC available on the Apple TV just for convenience. However, cord cutters will have some of the standard stuff like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO GO.
I also downloaded a couple games. I tested out Asphalt 8:Airborne and it was a lot of fun using the remote as a controller (more on the remote later).
I should mention that many “standard” apps are still not available. There is still no Plex, Amazon, Pandora, or Vudu available.
I have mentioned some of the features of the remote above. However, to be honest, I am not huge fan of the remote. While I really enjoyed playing Asphalt 8 with the Wii style functionality, the remote is so light and tiny that it makes it harder to control than a Wii remote because there is no heft to it.
Also, I am not sure why, but it seems to feel better in the hand upside down. There is a lot of empty space at the bottom and top, so it feels a bit confusing, when you pick it up, compared to every other controller I have used (I have caught myself aiming the bottom of the remote at the TV a few times). Also, the buttons could use a little more space between them, so it would have, IN MY OPINION, been nice to use that bottom space to make the controller more ergonomic. That being said, I think it was a design choice that makes it look more symetrical. I have to admit that I think it looks great, but I am more concerned with using it than looking at it.
I tested Airplay and it still works great. However, it worked pretty great on the old AppleTVs, too. I was happy that Apple didn’t remove this feature, though.
The Apple TV will still let you send the audio from the Apple TV to Airplay receivers, as well. I was hoping that they would implement multi-zone Airplay from the Apple TV to more than one Airplay speaker, but right now, it is still one Airplay speaker at a time.
In addition to Airplay, you can also pair bluetooth headphones with the new Apple TV. I tested this feature with Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones and they paired up without a problem. However, with Bluetooth you do have to worry about a lag between the video and when the audio hits your ears. With these specific headphones, I did not notice any lag when watching Youtube.
I like the interface, but I think it could be better. Right now it looks fantastic with its minimal design cues. However, it only allows 5 apps on each line. On my 65 inch TV, I can see 10 full icons and the top of 5 more icons (on a 32 inch display it shows only 5 full icons). I personally bought the 64GB version of the Apple TV in anticipation of having tons of apps. However, the Apple TV needs to be able to use folders. I would like to have 3 full lines of my 15 most used apps and then a line of folders for sports, games, videos, music, and others. This has been the best way to organize numerous iPhone apps, so I would think it would work here, as well.
I also want to mention the “Aerial Screensaver" features. I yawned when they spent so much time discussing this feature during the Apple Keynote. However, with Apple Music, I anticipate using the Apple TV quite a bit for music and that typically means that I want a screensaver to save my TV from burn in. In the past, I have always just used Flickr as my screensaver (it is another “coming soon” missing feature), but these beautiful aerial views are a nice change of pace.
I have mixed feelings about this Apple TV. It is priced higher than the Roku/FireTV and has less apps and doesn’t support 4k. At this point, I would only recommend it for people already in the Apple ecosystem or for those that want to be on board as new apps and features are introduced over the next year and beyond. In other words, I have no doubt that it will get a lot better in future months (Siri search in Apple Music alone will be a huge improvement). Right now, for the price of the $199 version, you could get an Nvidia Shield (I will post a comparison soon) which would give you a lot of features that the Apple TV doesn't have.
Note (12/15): Apple made provided a major updated to the AppleTV, read about it here.
Below is a quick look at the positives and negatives with the current version of the AppleTV (I am sure updates will be coming soon):
Apple Music (Siri integration would make it better)
Apple Music Videos
Siri - great for movies with certain apps
Arial Screensaver looks awesome
Apple Photos and the Apple ecosystem in general
Remote iOS app does not connect to the new Apple TV
Music - 48 kHz resampling (prefer on-the-fly bit rate switching for bit perfect audio)
Podcast app missing
Onscreen keyboard is strange (would prefer more rows)
Lacks bluetooth keyboard pairing
Lacks common inputs/outputs - no SD slot, no digital optical out, no way to connect external drive
Lacks 4k - probably not a big deal for most, but it is a feature that most competitors are adding
Pricey considering the lack of 4k
With the new release of the Chromecast Audio (CA) device, I thought I would discuss how it compares to the Airport Express. They are both audio only devices, but there are differences that should be considered.
TOP 10 DIFFERENCES
1. The CA costs $35 and has a mini port that supports analog and digital (via a mini to optical adapter or cable). It is capable of using Wi-Fi AC (which is superior to Wi-Fi N that the Airport Express uses).
The newer Airport Express typically sells for $90 or less (the older version is uglier but can typically be found for around $40). It supports digital and analog via a mini port as well. However, it can also expand your wireless network, has an ethernet input and output, and a USB port for connecting a printer. It supports Wireless N.
2. The Chromecast is small and plastic. It can be hidden out of the way, which makes it nice for hooking up to small radios that have an aux input. I tested it with a Tivoli Pal and it worked great.
The newest Airport Express is a small square (with rounded corners) white box that takes up more space. than the CA. However, in my opinion, it looks good enough to have on display.
The photo below is the back of the newer Airport Express:
3. The Chromecast can (theoretically) play 24/96 audio. (Note: I tried this with BubbleUPnP and everything played at 48khz via the digital output, so I don’t personally know how to get 24/96 to play. Edit: I looked into this and from what I have seen, there should be a firmware update to fix this issue.)
The Airport Express is limited to 16/44.1. However, it is bit perfect rather than resampling to 48khz, which is what happens right now with any audio I send to the CA.
4. The CA uses “Casting” and is supported by several different apps on both Android and iOS.
The Airport Express uses Airplay and has little support on Android, but is supported by virtually every app on iOS. Since Airplay is built into the iOS operating system, it can be accessed even when an app doesn't have direct support.
5. Casting will get the audio signal directly from the audio service (Spotify/Radio/etc..). This means you can take phone calls after you start casting from a mobile device (with most audio applications). Essentially, the mobile devices typically works as a remote.
Airplay sends audio to the mobile device and then the mobile device sends audio to the Airport Express. This means that you will lose the audio stream when you take a phone call. It also means that if you have an outdated router, you could be more susceptible to drop outs.
6. Casting will eventually support multi-zone audio.
Airplay supports multi-zone audio now, but it has some limitations (see my article on this subject).
7. On Macs and PCs, you can currently cast to only one CA at a time from Chrome’s browser.
With an app called Airfoil, you can stream any audio signal from your computer to any or all Airplay devices. Also, iTunes has multi-zone Airplay built into its normal interface.
8. With Casting, you always have to use wifi because there is not an ethernet port.
With the Airport Express you can exclusively be on ethernet. You simply send the audio signal from the service to your connected computer and “Airplay" over a wired connection to an Airport Express that is also wired.
9. Video apps with Casting built in often don’t even see the CA, so it is mainly for audio services on mobile. In other words, if you pull up Youtube on an iPhone, you can cast to "Chromecast Video”, but you can’t just Cast the audio stream to the CA .
With Airplay, you can split the signal and watch the video on the iPhone and hear the audio on the Airport Express.
10. The Chromecast Audio can use USB power. This is beneficial if you don’t want to take up another power outlet and can power it with a device that has a powered USB port. (Note: I tried this with a Phillips SoundRing and it worked, but there was static. Something in the CA or Phillips device probably isn’t shielded, so I won’t be using it that way.)
The Airport Express cannot be powered by USB. Also, the audio tone that lets you know the CA is connected is unusually annoying. If you are just hooking up the CA, make sure you turn that off in the settings.
The Chromecast Audio is a great device for the price. It is almost a no-brainer to pick it up just to try out. Right now, they have several promotional offers involved that can make the Chromecast Audio practically free (if you are willing to temporarily switch to Google Music or Rhapsody). If you are on Android, Airplay is so limited, and Sonos is so expensive, that this becomes a very intriguing device. However, if you are "all in" on iOS, Airplay works with unsupported (by Casting) apps like Apple Music, Podcast app, Overcast app, and pretty much every other, unsupported by Casting, app that has audio. Airplay is just much more versatile on iOS at this point. Therefore, I would go with Airplay if you are on iOS and Casting if you are on Android. I personally won’t be using the Chromecast Audio very often unless it becomes compatible with Apple Music or Overcast, but I will keep it around, just in case. It might come in handy when Apple Music is added to Android later this year.
You may remember I had a pre-launch wish list blog post that I released back in May. Well, now that I am past the initial thrill of finally having music streaming with Siri integration and having my iTunes Match library merged into a streaming service, I am now ready for an updated wish list. These are the top twenty things I would like to see addressed in the near future by Apple:
So what is the Whaale app?
It is an iOS app that adds multi-room Airplay capabilities to your iOS device without needing to get a computer or NAS involved. While it has some limits, it is great if you are willing to put up with their "nickel and diming" you to death (more on that later).
Who is it for?
It is for people in the Apple ecosystem that own at least one iOS device and more than one Airplay receiving device and want to play audio on them at the same time. An Airplay receiving device consists of Apple's Airport Express, the AppleTV 2 & 3, and any third party product that has Airplay built in. This can consist of individual speakers, receivers, etc.
If you have Airfoil installed on your computer, your computer can usually become an Airplay receiving device, as well. However, I tested Whaale with Airfoil Speakers that I have on a Mac and while the app and the Mac seem to connect, nothing played through the speakers. Therefore, I don't recommend this app for using with Airfoil. (NOTE: You can still use the Airplay features built into the Control Center on iOS to send the audio from Whaale to the Mac running Airfoil, but you lose the multi-room capabilities of Whaale in the process).
It can play one song across all receivers or you can choose different sources to send to each speaker (I have tested it with two simultaneous streams to two separate speakers and it played without an issue).
So what are the limits mentioned above?
The main limit is that it only works with certain players. In other words, you can't just launch Pandora or Spotify and play them on multiple Airplay speakers with this app. You have to use one of the sources in the app. The app has iPod, MediaServer, Internet Radio, Deezer Radio and Deezer Music. Unfortunately, Deezer isn't currently available in the US unless you have a SONOS and I am not sure I would want to switch from Rdio anyway. According to Whaale, you can get Spotify (Premium only), but you need to buy the Amplified app and the Audiobus app. Personally, I don't like Spotify enough to spend another $10, plus the price of the Whaale feature to get it on multiple Airplay devices at the same time. For those times I want multi-room audio for Spotify or Rdio, I will put a computer in the mix and use Airfoil. However, I don't listen to multi-room audio that often, so you have to decide for yourself if it is worth the extra money to get Spotify to work with Whaale.
Currently, you can use 6 Airplay speakers. That isn't really a big deal, but the fact that it only shows 6 Airplay speakers on the screen at once means that if I want to get to speaker #7, #8, #9, etc.. in my setup, I have to move speakers to the "stage" (this is where you move speakers that you want to hear) until the speaker I am looking for shows up in the six speakers that are listed. Also, I don't like the fact that most of the speaker names are abridged because of the limited space in the speakers section of the app. Personally, I would prefer more space for the speakers and less space for the "stage". Also, the panel to the left of the speakers isn't really needed and takes up too much space. It give you the ability to get to another screen, but you can do the same by swiping to the left.
What was meant by "nickel and diming"?
There is a free version of the app (Whaale LE) that has limited features and there are "in app" purchases. To get the paid version of Whaale, the cost is currently $7.99. You get the ability to play on 2 speakers, but to add more, the price ranges per speaker. They can cost $.99 (for each up to 4 speakers to $1.99 each speaker (for 5 & 6). Then, if you want to have media server access, that costs another $.99, for internet access another $.99, Whaale Family which allows you to control speakers from more than one iOS device is $4.99.
Personally, I would have liked the option of one price to update everything and a discount for buying everything would have also been nice. I have not used the Whaale Family feature, but I may end up adding it since I have been known to switch from iPhone to iPad and I believe this may be a more seamless experience. Even if you add everything, the price isn't that bad if you want to use iOS and for whatever reason, can't put a computer in the mix.
As I have written about in the past, Apple could "sherlock" this app and provide Airplay multi-room streaming with all apps, not just the limited plug-ins available by Whaale. However, for very little money, you can get iOS multiple room streaming now and for me it was worth a few bucks if just for the ability to stream music to the entire house via an inexpensive Seagate Personal Cloud Storage NAS or using the app's internet radio stations (see some of the "Genres" below). Not to mention that you can just stream to the iOS device directly if you just want to listen on your iPad/iPhone. The great thing that I love about the app is that there is a free version you can use to try it out and see if it is for you or not. However, I admit that I was quickly hooked after the trial.
I have written several articles related to Airplay and I am a big fan of the technology. However, it is a mystery as to why Apple hasn’t tapped into the full potential of the technology.
Currently, you have a few options for multi-room audio. You can use iTunes on a computer, which has multiple speaker Airplay built right into the iTunes interface. It also allows you to control the speaker selection using the Remote app on iOS (see pic above). This is about all you can do for multiple speaker playback without third party apps.
In the past, I always thought the reason Apple did not have multiple Airplay speaker streaming from iOS was related to a limitation of iOS or the Airplay technology. However, that isn’t the case.
iOS to iOS Streaming
Apple has an issue with streaming from one iOS device to another. They have claimed that this is a “Post PC” world, yet you need a computer and Airfoil Speakers running on an iOS device to use the iPhone as an Airplay receiver.
Multistream Audio from One Library
As I mentioned, you can send your “now playing” audio from iTunes to multiple devices. However, you can’t do the same with multiple songs. In other words, if you want to play The Beatles in one room and Nirvana in another, you can’t do that within the same library. Synology has the ability to stream different audio streams (or the same stream) to multiple rooms at the same time using their NAS and the DS Audio app (see pic below). Apple needs to give us the same ability from iTunes/Apple Music.
AirPlay Beats Speakers
Recently, I read an article that Beats had a speaker technology in the works that would compete with Sonos when Apple bought them. It Is being reported that Apple may have put the project on the back burner or completely scrapped it. However, I think Apple is missing an opportunity. Right now there are several third party vendors with speakers and Apple should have a native solution. If they could add direct from the web streaming to AirPlay with Beats and/or Apple branded speakers (my preference would be for a sleek Apple design), they could get a bigger piece of the streaming pie. It would also help with ecosystem lock-in. (AirPlay is the main reason I didn't switch to Android when I wanted a larger phone and Apple didn't make one).
There isn't a hardware or software limitation that is causing AirPlay to not completely fulfill its potential. It is a decision Apple is making and I don't understand it. I am hoping with Apple Music and iOS 9, they add some of these great features to the interface. However, all that being said, I still prefer the current version of AirPlay to the rest of the streaming competition.
First let me say that this article isn't an attempt to say that Apple shouldn't update the Apple TV. Of course it can benefit from an update, and I am curious to see what they can do with it (HomeKit? Siri integration?) if they do update it.
However, the article is a defense of the current Apple TV for people that use iOS devices and explains why I think it is still a great device even as the market get saturated with new devices.
The thing that pushed me to write this article was a recent video (8 minutes and 45 seconds in) by Andy Ihnatko. While I am usually a fan of his work, especially his appearances on MacBreak Weekly, I don't agree with many of his comments here or I find them out of context or just plain strange.
One of his comments said that the Apple TV "was outclassed by every competing product". This is a bit strange coming from someone that supposedly uses Macs and an iPad. While the Chromecast certainly is cheaper, it isn't outclassing the Apple TV in any way. The Apple TV has an optical digital output so it can be used with older receivers or DACs (great for music setups). The Chromecast would require adapters to have this ability. The Apple TV has an ethernet port and the Chromecast doesn't. This means that if you have wifi issues, you can use ethernet to connect your Apple TV. These are basic features that make the Apple TV a more versatile product. The main upside to the Chromecast is that it is dirt cheap and small, but I don't see anything makes it "outclass" an Apple TV, especially for the hundreds of millions of people that own an iOS device.
He also spent a lot of time complaining about the remote. At least it has one (unlike the Chromecast) and the Apple TV can be functional without needing to "cast/mirror" to it. The little Apple remote, which has also gotten raves for its minimalistic design, is irrelevant for people that have a universal remote or for anyone that has walked through the third party remote setup on the Apple TV screen (which he does mention and pretty much undermines his own argument). Personally, I use the Apple remote for vacations and appreciate the small size for travel. For home, I use a Harmony remote or an iPhone (Roomie Remote app/Apple Remote) to control it wirelessly. He mentions that he loses it because it is so small, but the alternative is having a bunch of large remotes sitting on your side table (not ideal at all, which is why I don't usually use the remotes that comes with any devices and choose to use universal remotes).
As an example of how having a remote is more useful, I have someone stay at my house when I am away and they can use the Apple TV without needing a computer or mobile device to control it. They can use the Harmony remote, which has macros for getting to the right inputs on my TV and receiver with a touch of a button. It also has macros built in to to take you to anything you want to do in my complicated setup. With the Chromecast, you would need a remote for controlling the receiver and a device to control what you are watching. A child, a visitor, or anyone that doesn't have a mobile device or computer on hand would find the Chromecast impossible to use. The Apple TV has plenty of the most popular apps built in that do not require anything other than a Harmony remote or the small remote they include with the Apple TV.
Andy also dismisses Airplay by saying that with the iPhone he can stream YouTube to his Roku. This is true, but the casting feature is EXTREMELY limited with the Roku on the iPhone/iPad. Try streaming Kelbyone, Downcast, Rdio, Spotify, iTunes Radio, etc, etc, etc... to it and you are out of luck. This is the main limitation with the Roku, it can cast a couple apps from iOS and that is about it. You usually have to rely on the apps built into the Roku. The Apple TV also provides "Airplay Mirroring". This means that you can simply share the screen of the device you are using. It also works with certain Macs. Additionally, the Apple TV can run headless with numerous music apps because of Airplay.
While Roku has a ton of apps to choose from, many are JUNK. Just go through their catalog and you will see what I mean. On the other hand, they have a Spotify app, but unfortunately it is limited when compared to the iPhone app. Also, you can't use it without a premium subscription. However, you can just Airplay the free version of Spotify from your iPhone to the Apple TV. They also have an Rdio app, and while it is better than Spotify, it is still no comparison to navigating on an iPhone, and as usual, it is still limited on features in comparison to the iOS app. The upside is that you can do everything with a Harmony remote (the remote I got with my Roku XS is worse than the Apple TV remote and for some reason it turns on our LED lighting when I use it). If you are willing to live with half-baked apps that are much more useful when used via Airplay, then I guess the Roku is for you.
He also talks about a "wait icon" and a "we are validating you" icon on the Apple TV. While my Roku isn't the newest thing on the market, it is not any faster than the Apple TV. As a result, should I buy a new Roku because I have to wait for 5 seconds for Netflix to sign in? He is right that I don't get an icon, but I do sit on the Netflix page and the YouTube page while everything loads. I would say it actually takes longer to load than the comparable apps on Apple TV, but I don't find it to big a big deal. So if Apple takes three or four seconds to load Netflix and another newer device takes 2 seconds to load it, is that really a big deal to someone? I rarely sit down to watch a movie when I can't wait a few seconds for an app or an app feature to load. If you do find it an issue, it may be time to cut back on the caffeine and relax a little bit.
The Apple TV is more of a hybrid device that fits in the niche between the Chromecast and the Roku. You can watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, PBS, Flickr streams, Vevo, Youtube, and more without needing a computer or mobile device to control it. This makes it ideal for other family members and guests to use with just a Harmony Remote control. The Chromecast isn't even sold with a remote.
Airplay is a huge feature for the Apple TV, despite Andy practically dismissing it. If you own an iOS device, it opens nearly everything up to you. You can send video to the Apple TV from most apps. This means when you don't have a Roku app for Linda.com videos, Kelby One videos, your local news channel, and many more, you can Airplay it from your iOS device to your Apple TV. For music, you get the full experience from apps like Spotify and Rdio without the trade offs. Also it is just easier to use these apps for navigation than trying to use the Roku remote or even Roomie or Roku's app. For photos, I can pull up the Lightroom/Photo app on my iPhone and send a slideshow to my TV. You simply can't do most of this with a Roku. I think Chromecast has more features than Roku in this area, since it is only casting, but I am not sure how compatible it is across the iOS system when compared to Airplay. However, my understanding is that Chromecast is not much better than Roku if you are using it with iOS apps. Chromecast is mainly for the Chrome browser and I would rather just launch an app and play rather than trying to navigate webpages in a browser.
Another bonus is that you have direct access to iTunes, iTunes Match, iMovies, iCloud Photos, Podcasts (which is handled a lot better by the Apple TV than the Roku.... you would think Andy would have mentioned this since he is on podcasts), Apple Movies, Special Concerts, Apple Keynotes, etc.. These feature are not available on competitor devices, which is why I think Apple TV is still the BEST choice for people in Apple's ecosystem. Another useful feature is that you can send audio from the Apple TV to any other AirPlay receiver. It is very convenient if you have multiple AirPlay devices.
The funny thing is that after I started writing this article, there was an article saying that Apple is losing market share to Chromecast. From what I can tell, Apple has never worried about market share. As of right now, they are the most valuable company in the world despite having a lower marketshare to Windows when compared to OSX, smaller market share with iOS compared to Android, and now a smaller marketshare in this area. They sold $1 billion dollars worth of Apple TVs in 2013 and the thing typically sells for $99 instead of $35. This means that they are most likely making a lot more money on the Apple TV when compared to most (all?) of the competition. Also, Chromecast has plenty of bundles that make it practically free if you want the services they are giving bundling with it. Right now they have 3 free months of Google Play and 2 free months of Hulu Plus (this is around $46 of value for the purchase of a $35 device). Earlier this year, they were giving them away with the off contract purchase of theMoto X. Yeah, I think Apple could give away the Apple TV and they would increase market share, but they have never shown that to be a concern. For some reason, they prefer to make money.
In short, despite the rantings of Andy (he addresses the Apple TV at 8:45 minutes in), I think the Apple TV is still the best option for people that like Apple's ecosystem and I am sure that number is quite large. The combination of Airplay and built in apps is a hybrid between most services and fits my personal needs the best even when compared with the Roku. If you don't believe me, take a look at PC Magazines' "10 Holiday Tech Gifts for Less than $100" this month. Right out of the gate, they recommend the Apple TV.
I do agree that the Apple TV will benefit from an update, but so will most tech. It starts aging the minute you figuratively drive it off the lot. However, for those in the Apple ecosystem it is still the best and most obvious choice. Of course, you can sit around and wait for an update or go with a device that doesn't take advantage of the Apple ecosystem, but it would depend on whether you want to make the massive trade offs. Personally, I chose to buy an Apple TV and a Roku. However, if I had to throw one of them out, it would be the Roku....and it would be an easy choice.
In 2010, I bought the Original iPad and it inspired me to take another look at Apple products. I really didn't want to spend over $1000 to see if I liked using a Mac, so I was drawn to the (much cheaper) Mac Mini. I ended up buying a 2010 mid-year Mac Mini a few months later. I figured that I would eventually just put it in my home theater whether I liked it or not.
The 2010 Mini is not the highest spec'd computer. It has a 2.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and I upgraded the RAM to 8GBs. However, the small size, energy efficiency, and quiet fan make this computer a perfect compliment for most home theaters.
Before I discuss the way I use the Mini, I do want to mention that I looked into playing hi-rez movie soundtracks (True-HD and DTS-HD) and it was not supported the last time I checked. If this is important to you, I would recommend researching further or just picking up a Windows computer instead. You can hook up a Blu-ray drive to the mini, but you would need special software to play it and (from what I understand) you would still lose the hi rez soundtracks.
I discovered that I liked OSX mainly because it gave me a different experience at home than at work, where we run Windows. As a result, in 2011, I bought an iMac, which freed the Mini to be used exclusively for media. However, I decided to keep it sitting on my desk in the office since my office shares a wall with my home theater system and it would give me easier access since I could use the DVI output to feed a monitor in the office and "mini-display to HDMI" to feed a Denon receiver in our living room (where we keep our "home theater"). I simply mirror the display so that the same thing shows up in both rooms. I believe there may be a performance hit for mirroring, but it runs fine, so I haven't tried to get around the issue, which would be easy with an HDMI splitter. Another advantage of having it in a separate room is that the fan can get louder if you are doing something that taxes its power reserves.
The most important aspect of using a Mini for media is the programs you decide to use with it. Below is a list of some of the most useful programs that I run:
1. iTunes - I don't have a problem using iTunes to manage my music. If you have an iOS device (and I would highly recommend getting one to use with the Mac Mini) there is a "Remote" app from Apple that will control playback and make it easy to chose music from your library. If you have Airplay devices, you can also choose where the signal is played. It works with multiple Airplay speakers without Airfoil, so that is a plus, as well.
2. Audiotap - This is an app that runs alongside iTunes. It is for streaming your music to an iDevice anywhere that has an internet connection. It will work with lossless files on wifi.
3. Plex - This is a slick media interface that will allow you to access your own media and some plug ins (like Cnet video and Twittv). Plex also has a well received paid service that I don't currently use.
4. XBMC (soon to be Kodi Entertainment Center) - This is a bit geekier than Plex. It is more of a hobby, but has more third party apps available.
5. Rowmote - As I mentioned, I recommend an iOS device to control the Mini and this is an amazing app that will allow you to use that iOS device as a keyboard and mouse. Since I have the Mini in a separate room, I do have a regular keyboard and mouse hooked to them, but most of the time I control it with my iPhone. One other cool thing about the app is that has a list of applications, and when you click on one, it will launch.
6. Splashtop - You can also use this to control the Mac Mini via an iOS device or laptop. The plus to this is that you can take complete control of the computer without needing to have your TV on. Very useful for music.
7. Rdio/Spotify - I have both of these in use now. Spotify currently has better sound quality and you can control it running on your computer via "Remoteless" app on iOS or Splashtop. Rdio can be controlled, once you have it playing, with the Rdio app on your iOS device. I prefer Rdio unless I need ultimate sound quality, which unfortunately is a lot of the time.
8. Airfoil - This app will allow you to send any audio from your Mini to any Airplay device. I have numerous Airplay devices, so this comes in handy. One cool feature is that it will turn your Mini into an Airplay receiver and then you can send audio to any or all of your Airplay devices. There are also a couple Airfoil apps for iOS. Airfoil Speakers (for iOS) will turn your iPhone/iPad into an Airplay receiver for your computer. AF Remote app (for iOS) lets you control the Airplay devices that will receive a signal without sitting in front of a computer. It will also provide some control of the audio program that is playing, like volume, stop and play.
9. Roomie Auxillary - I have written about Roomie Remote for iOS and this plug-in works great. It allows the user to launch and control programs at the touch of a button.
9. Eyetv HD - I use this to occasionally record programs from Directv. It receives a signal from the component outputs on the satellite box and sends the signal to the Mini via USB. It can't record surround sound, but it is still useful. It also streams to iPads and iPhones and can be Airplayed to AppleTV.
10. Slingbox - For me, this is a better way of getting TV on the Mini. Its a box that plugs into a satellite box and ethernet and will display the signal on the Mini (or iOS device). It won't record programs like the Eyetv, but it is less "buggy" for streaming a signal wherever you are (with internet). When the Directv box in our home theater started to have issues, we used the Mini to stream video from our satellite box in the bedroom until we were able to get Directv out to fix it.
11. Kylo - This is an interesting app that will allow you to easily launch sites like Netflix, Pandora, etc.. It essentially a web browser with links to some of the most popular sites and it can be resized for easier viewing on a television. It hasn't been updated in years, but their site still has it available for download.
12. Fidelia - This is a somewhat expensive app that improves sound quality of your files on a Mac. I mainly use it for its nifty headphone settings. It also has a useful iOS app so you can control the music (similar to the Remote app).
13. Bitperfect - another app for improving sound quality from the Mac. It works with iTunes, so you can control it with the Remote app. It is also a lot cheaper than Fidelia, will perform bitrate changes on the fly (in other words, if you play a 16/44.1 file and then play a 24/96 file it will play them in their native resolution. iTunes doesn't.), but it doesn't have the great headphone features of Fidelia. I also use the Mini to feed a headphone setup using a USB output, so I like those extra features.
14. I also run some special screensavers, one is clock like you see in the pic below the article and the other is an aquarium app that has realistic fish that swim across your screen. There is another that pulls up album art.
The above are the main apps I run from OSX, but you can always find others to fit your taste and needs. For example, some people don't like iTunes, so there are options that might fit their needs better. I should mention that Vudu has an issue playing HDX files on my Mini. It says there are HDCP issues so it will only play SD files. As a result, I usually use Roku if I want to watch a movie on Vudu. I have read about some third pary HDMI splitters that strip the HDCP, but I have never used them.
Besides the numerous ways to play music directly, it also serves up files to Appletv via iTunes and Roku via Plex. It can also run apps like Tversity that work well with the PS3.
One benefit of using Macs is that they are easy to partition with Bootcamp and can also use Windows. At one point, I prefered Windows Media Center to Plex, so I run Windows8 (I "upgraded" from Win7) via VMWare Fusion (an app that allows both operating systems to be running and accessible at the same time). I also have JRiver Media Center running on Windows (bought it before it was added to OSX). This is just another media app, but it is cheaper than Fidelia and has some of the same headphone settings. It sounds great and you can also control it with an app called JRemote. JRemote works with DLNA devices and Airplay devices. Obviously, with a Windows partition, you can play some lower-end (less taxing) games. If you go this route, you will probably want a real mouse rather than using an iOS device as a remote. I have never used it this way, but I may try it at some point.
As you can tell, the Mini has some great media server features and, for me, it's benefits outweigh some of its shortfalls. The fact that it burns little electricity and can run more apps than my NAS makes it the perfect compliment to the many audio and video systems I have around the house. If you are thinking about going this route and have questions, please leave a comment or send me an email.
Dog loving, Big Green Egg worshiping, Tech enthusiast, residing in Memphis, TN. Home of the Tigers, Grizzlies, Elvis, Al Green, Stax, Hi Records, Ardent Studios, Beale Street, Peabody Ducks, etc.. I have also added the Jeep Wrangler to the list of things I am enthusiastic about.
Flickr pics below